Labor relations lawyers deal with relations between employers and employees in connection with labor unions. Employment lawyers offer counsel regarding the rights and duties of private employers and employees, making sure the interests of both are protected under the wide variety of federal, state, and local laws that apply to most workplaces.

Many labor relations lawyers specialize in issues related to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and unions and would further specialize in representing either unions or employers. Employment lawyers are more likely to specialize in the other laws that apply to workplaces, employment contracts, wrongful termination lawsuits, workplace discrimination and the like. But some lawyers may work in both areas.

The NLRA is the main body of federal law that deals with the rights of employees and employers in connection with unions in the workplace. The NLRA encourages collective bargaining between workers’ unions and employers. It allows employees to form labor unions and join unions. It protects workers who engage in activities that work to address or improve working conditions.

The NLRA only applies to employees in the private sector, except for agricultural workers, and not to workers in federal, state, or local governments. It also does not apply to employers subject to the federal Railway Labor Act (RLA). The Railway Labor Act is the federal labor law that applies to labor relations in the railroad and airline industries.

The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS) regulates labor relations for most federal employees and gives them collective bargaining rights. This statute is part of Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

One thing that labor relations lawyers would do is to identify unfair labor practices perpetrated by employers, employees and unions themselves. Employers need to be aware of the provisions of both the NLRA and the FSLMRS and other federal and state laws that relate to unions, union organizing and collective bargaining.

If an employer interferes with, restrains, or coerces an employee when the employee tries to exercise their right to form or join a union and bargain collectively for an employment contract, then the employer is committing an unfair labor practice. They may be subject to consequences for committing an unfair labor practice.

An employer cannot encourage an employee to take part in a union. Nor can an employer discourage an employee from taking part in a labor organization by using promotion, tenure, or hiring as an incentive. It is also unlawful for an employer to refuse to negotiate about the terms and conditions of employment in good faith with a labor organization.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) enforce federal labor laws. Where a person works determines which laws protect a worker in a particular industry and where a worker should file a claim alleging an unfair labor practice.

The NLRB regulates relations between workers and private employers. The FLRA deals with employees of the federal government. A person, employer or union can file claims with both agencies online. Once a claim is filed, an employee of the appropriate agency begins a formal investigation.

The NLRA prohibits both employers and unions from engaging in certain actions that would interfere with the rights of employees or with the balance the NLRA establishes between unions and employers. These prohibited actions are called “unfair labor practices” in the terminology of the NLRA.

An employer, employee, or union that believes an unfair labor practice has been committed may file a charge with the NLRB or the FLRA. A charge must be filed within six months of the incident. The National Labor Relations Board has the exclusive authority to enforce the NLRA. It cannot be enforced through private lawsuits. Stil, an employer, employee or union might want the assistance of a labor relations lawyer when it comes to filing a complaint with the NLRB.

The agency decides whether an employer, employee or union has committed an unfair labor practice and either issues a complaint, dismisses the charge, or provides a remedy for the situation. If an employer, union or worker is not satisfied with a decision by the agency, they can appeal the decision. However, again, they cannot file a private lawsuit.

Do I Have Rights as an Employer?

For employers, employment relation lawyers help counsel employers on compliance of federal, state, and local employment laws in order to help increase workplace productivity and prevent litigation involving employees.

Many employment lawyers who have employers as clients assist their clients in the following areas:

  • Preparation of employee brochures and handbooks regarding company policies;
  • Drafting employment contracts and offer letters and/or agreements;
  • Helping to organize any drug/alcohol regulation policy;
  • Investigation of employment misconduct in the workplace;
  • Assisting in compliance of federal, state, local laws including wage and hour regulations;
  • Complying with state and federal health and safety standards;
  • Protecting employee privacy interests.

A labor relations lawyer can help advise an employer in the event that workers at a worksite undertake a unionization campaign. Or, if a union is already representing employees and the employer needs to engage in collective bargaining or needs advice regarding union operations at the site, e.g. grievance procedures, a labor relations lawyer can advise the employer as to their rights in these situations.

Do I Have Rights as an Employee?

The NLRB is a government agency that is specifically dedicated to enforcing the NLRA. The FLRA is a government agency that is specifically dedicated to managing labor-management relations for federal employees worldwide who do not work for the U.S. Postal Service. If a person’s employer has mistreated them in some way that violates other federal or state laws, it is likely that there is another federal or state agency that the person can turn to for guidance.

For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles claims of discrimination in employment based on race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, national origin, or sexual
orientation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration handles cases involving health and safety in the workplace. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division deals with complaints from employees related to unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, and family and medical leave.

Other agencies that may be helpful include the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, and the federal National Mediation Board. The National Mediation Board enforces collective bargaining and labor unionizing rights for airline and railway employees.

And then there are state laws and agencies as well. Most states have departments of labor or something equivalent and agencies that deal with health and safety in the workplace. In short, there is a dizzying array of government laws and agencies that have an impact on the workplace and both employers and employees. That is part of the reason for seeking guidance on a continuing basis from a qualified labor relations or employment lawyer.

For employees, employment lawyers provide legal advice regarding the rights and duties of employers and employees, making sure that employees are treated fairly and their interests are protected. Many employment lawyers who represent employees as clients assist them in the following areas:

  • Wage and hour violations by employers;
  • Employment contracts, express and implied, and wrongful termination;
  • Employee healthcare and other benefits;
  • Breaches of individual employment contracts and other agreements;
  • Safety and health regulations under OSHA;
  • Discrimination in the workplace based on membership in a protected class;
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace;
  • Minimum wage and overtime regulations;
  • Injuries on the job and workers’ compensation;
  • Issues involving whistleblowing.

If an employee is a member of a union, and believes that their rights have been disrespected, they would probably turn first to their union, which would have a grievance procedure for resolving complaints against the employer by an employee. In the event that an employee feels that a union has disrespected their rights, they would want to turn to a labor relations lawyer.

Do I Need a Labor Relations or Employment Lawyer?

An experienced employment attorney can help employers avoid litigation by advising them how to comply with the many federal and state laws and regulations that apply to their workplace.

A labor relations lawyer can also be helpful if workers are organizing a union at their worksite. Or, if there is a bargaining unit in place, a labor relations lawyer can help advise on strategies for working through collective bargaining negotiations and other aspects of a union-represented workforce.

An employment attorney can also help an employee with the issues listed above. If an employee is a union officer, if they suspect their employer of an unfair labor practice, they would want to consult a labor relations lawyer.

Every employer probably needs to consult an experienced employment lawyer on a routine basis. If they deal with unions in their workplaces, then they probably want to consult a labor relations employer on a routine basis.